When Odysseus leaves on his journey, the sea takes him away. The sea signifies silence and vastness, yet it promises hope and the eternal. The sea gives a promise of rebirth. It is no coincidence that a baptism (or a taking of the waters) is a process of being born again. The water gives this purification or a repeat of the cycle.
To be reborn, we need a mother. Where do we find the mother of Odysseus? We do know that Penelope is weaving and unraveling a death shroud for Odysseus’ father. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, isn’t a renowned beauty like Helen, but she is loyal, and Odysseus cherishes her in his manliness. He isn’t a typical romantic husband. He is not handsome and the problem is he keeps leaving, and he is gone a long, long time. Penelope is left at home to fight off all of the suitors that threaten to steal his palace from him. They try to convince her he is dead. When he eventually returns, no one knows. This was necessary. Being hidden and deceptive was necessary to ensure that he could regain his palace and land. So, he disguises himself as a feeble old beggar. He tricks the suitors by accessing his son Telemachus and plans the attack. A contest is held over who is strong enough to shoot Odysseus’ bow. Not one of the suitors can do it. When Aethon tries (the old beggar), he succeeds. It is only then that his identity is secured and proven, and the story is then able to conclude as it should. Penelope and Odysseus are reunited, and the kingdom is regained. Isn’t this book also a celebration of the mother, as well as a celebration of the heroic nature of the father figure? Overcoming of adversity is a strong plot device in both of these complimentary characters.
My thoughts these days revolve around where The Odyssey and Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion converge. The reunion of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth could only have happened within a setting of the sea. Wentworth being a successful sea captain is significant here. The seaside towns, the fossils at The Cobb, Bath and its social conventions embedded within a ceremony of baptism for health all contribute to the final reunion and the unquestionable hope leading up to this moment. Both Anne and Frederick are forced into the same sort of silent surrender. All of their real and true communication occurs second hand-whether it was overheard or spread through secondary characters, they never communicate openly to each other. This gives the reader a feeling that their minds have been attached. Austen opens up the possibility in the final revised chapters of her writing career of mental telepathy occurring between these two characters. How did they know? How could they both be so sure?
It appears that Austen is making the attempt to incorporate equality in her final novel. A mirroring of contrasting and converging feminine and masculine strength that we also see in The Odyssey.
Critics have called Persuasion a book about autumn and potentially the autumn of Austen’s life. But autumn symbolizes loss: a loss we never quite see in this book. Instead we see a piece of writing entirely based on the idea of hope and constancy. A woman in danger of becoming a spinster has unconsciously waited for the love of her life to return. It is my thought that The Odyssey and Persuasion have more in common than just a man and his journey away from home and the women they leave behind.
I will be researching this deeply in the hopes to find a thesis that would incorporate these ideas and to take them further over the next few months. I hope to reach a greater understanding of Jane Austen as a writer and a mature one, along with a greater understanding of what the idea of sea means when we engage it within a literary work.
The silence and the rhythm of the sea find balance within these two works.
“When pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.”
-Anne Elliot, Persuasion.
“I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.”
-Mrs. Croft, Persuasion.